We wish we could be more enthusiastic about who we endorse to become Rapid City's mayor in Tuesday's election, but the choice between incumbent Mayor Sam Kooiker and state Sen. Mark Kirkeby doesn't give us much to cheer about. It is with reservations that we endorse Kooiker to return as mayor of Rapid City.
Two years after winning a runoff following a four-person race to become mayor, Kooiker has only one person to beat this time, but his opponent has run a very weak campaign.
Kirkeby hasn't articulated a vision for Rapid City's future that inspires one to vote for him. As Kooiker said during the Journal's mayoral debate, "My opponent's vision for Rapid City is to oppose mine." The line got a chuckle from the audience, but unfortunately, it contained a degree of truth.
During that same debate, Kirkeby criticized Kooiker for going on economic development trips, saying he'll leave that up to his economic development official. Why have a mayor at all if he's not going to promote Rapid City as the best place to locate a business?
In fact, Kirkeby has said his management style would be to let city officials do their jobs. What would Kirkeby do as mayor of Rapid City? After all the debates and forums, we're still not sure what he would do as Rapid City's leader.
You have free articles remaining.
We cannot discuss Kirkeby's governing style without mentioning his dismal voting record in the state Legislature on open government issues. The public's right to know would not have a champion at city hall should Kirkeby become mayor.
As for Kooiker, at least he has made an effort to improve transparency in city government; however, he could do more. The Rapid City's police department too often keeps information from the public which has a right to know about safety issues. As mayor, Kooiker could open more police records to the public.
Kooiker still has a lot to learn even after two years as mayor. He needs to understand that he'll make mistakes and be criticized for them. That goes with the territory as a public official. He needs to develop a thicker skin and not view his critics as enemies. Remember that it was Kooiker who came out ahead following his censure hearing when he was an alderman in 2009. Everyone on the council who voted to censure him either retired or were voted out, and Kooiker is now mayor.
Kooiker needs to set a leadership example for the city council, which is just as divided now as it has ever been. Although Kooiker supported releasing the city's investigation into Alderman Bill Clayton's alleged racist comments to a reporter, the report was available to the council a month before its release.
One area that has been a bright spot for Kooiker is the improving economy in Rapid City. The city continues to grow, with steady expansion in business centers, including the downtown business district. A Canadian engineering company recently announced its move to open an office in Rapid City, and WL Plastics is building a plant here. Rapid City sales tax revenues have increased by $7 million since 2010, and housing starts have doubled in two years.
In our view, Kooiker should be returned to office as mayor of Rapid City. He has room to grow as mayor and his two years in office have earned him that opportunity.